In re Ricardo in People v Ricardo, Case No. S230923
Date of judgment: 15 August 2019
Court: Supreme Court of California
Relevance of the case
Ricardo, a juvenile defendant, had a condition as part of his probation that he submit all electronic devices under his control to search by any probation or peace officer, with or without a search warrant, at any time of the day. The Supreme Court of California (Supreme Court) held that there was no indication that Ricardo had used or will use electronic devices in connection with any illegal activity. The Supreme Court concluded that the burden imposed on Ricardo’s privacy was substantially disproportionate to the countervailing interests of furthering his rehabilitation and protecting society. As such, the electronics search condition was declared invalid.
Ricardo, a juvenile defendant, was placed on probation after admitting to two counts of felony burglary. As a condition of his probation, the Juvenile Court required Ricardo to submit to warrantless searches of his electronic devices, including any electronic accounts that could be accessed through these devices. Specifically, the probation condition required Ricardo to “[s]ubmit … electronics including passwords under [his] control to search by Probation Officer or peace office[r] with or without a search warrant at any time of day or night”.
This condition was imposed in order to monitor whether Ricardo was communicating about drugs, despite the fact that there was no suggestion in the record that he had ever used his electronic devices to commit, plan, discuss or even consider unlawful use or possession of drugs or any other criminal activity. As such, Ricardo challenged the electronics search condition as invalid and unconstitutionally overbroad, arguing that the condition was not reasonably related to the crime or preventing any future crime.
Judgment of the Supreme Court
As a point of departure, the Supreme Court noted that a condition of probation which requires or forbids conduct that is not in itself criminal is only valid if that conduct is reasonably related to the crime of which the defendant was convicted or to future criminality. Further, the Supreme Court noted that a probation condition that imposes limitations on constitutional rights must closely tailor those limitations to the purpose of the conditions, in order to avoid being overbroad.
The key issue for determination was whether the probation condition required or forbade conduct that was reasonably related to future criminality. On the facts before it, the Supreme Court held that there was no indication that Ricardo had used or will use electronic devices in connection with any illegal activity. As such, the record was insufficient to justify the substantial burdens imposed by this electronic search condition. The probation condition was therefore not reasonably related to future criminality, and as such invalid.
According to the Supreme Court, the condition “significantly burdens privacy interests”. The Supreme Court noted that a cellphone’s immense storage capacity means that it “collects in one place many distinct types of information … that reveal much more in combination that any isolated record”. Further in this regard, the Supreme Court stated:
The plain language of this electronics search condition would require Ricardo to provide probation officers full access, day or night, not only to his social media accounts but also to the contents of his e-mails, text messages, and search histories, all photographs and videos stored on his devices, as well as any other data accessible using electronic devices, which could include anything from banking information to private health or financial information to dating profiles.
As noted, the electronics search condition here is expansive in its scope: It allows probation officers to remotely access Ricardo’s e-mail, text and voicemail messages, photos, and online accounts, including social media like Facebook and Twitter, at any time. It would potentially even allow officers to monitor Ricardo’s text, phone, or video communications in real time. Further, the condition lacks any temporal limitations, permitting officers to access digital information that long predated the imposition of Ricardo’s probation.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court held that the burden imposed on Ricardo’s privacy was substantially disproportionate to the countervailing interests of furthering his rehabilitation and protecting society. The Supreme Court therefore struck out the electronics search condition, and remanded the matter for reconsideration by the Juvenile Court.
The full judgment is accessible here.
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